I’ll never get the manga magazine industry. I do understand that whatever manga stays and goes depends on popular vote, but sometimes, it’s really astonishing when something that isn’t all that popular somehow manages to survive for a long time. Seraph of the End and Twin Star Exorcists come to mind. But what about Karneval, published in omnibus form by Yen Press?
In Karneval, a boy named Nai is captured and almost sexually assaulted by some rich woman (who is, apparently, also a mutant of some kind). He’s saved by a dude named Gareki, who notices a necklace on Nai’s person: an I.D. bracelet of someone in the secret service known as Circus. According to Nai, a friend of his, named Karoku, possessed this bracelet (somehow), and wants to find him. So, the two boys team up to seek out this dude, and inevitably get involved in a whole bunch of stuff along with Circus themselves.
Karneval is basically a battle shounen manga that tries to be story driven. There is a lot of plot that gets covered in each chapter… almost too much at once. If I may touch on the artwork early, the panel flow is very wonky, as it cuts away to scenes more abruptly than Family Guy. A lot of times, there’ll be a fight scene happening, and then suddenly, two completely separate people will talk about something that has nothing to do with the fight at all!
Despite the weird cuts, Karneval has a pretty standard issue story. Most of the intrigue revolves around Nai’s strange hearing ability, among other things, as well as what Karoku’s deal is. It progresses towards answering these questions, while asking new ones, at a pretty steady pace. The Circus spaceships are also pretty cool. They’re basically flying mansions that are managed by robot bunny rabbits. Karneval also has a cool explanation for how they get their fantasy superpowers.
The characters are, sadly, pretty unremarkable. Nai is the worst of the bunch, as he is just a weak kid who only exists for his plot relevance. He’s obsessed with Karoku, to the point where it gets super annoying, and he’s also just… dumb; not in the fun way. Gareki is just the designated cool dude, with no real personality. These two protagonists are also lacking in the power progression department. Gareki doesn’t even start his first training arc until the fourth omnibus (volumes 7-8), and Nai is pure baggage, who is incapable of defending himself in any capacity whatsoever.
The people in Circus that they meet are basically just various character tropes. Yogi is the aloof guy, Tsukumo is the loli, Eva is the busty older sister, Hirato is the nonchalant guy… It’s an understatement to say that you’ve likely seen this before.
As for the art, Karneval looks kind of like a shoujo manga when it comes to the shapes of the characters’ faces. Fortunately, they (at least the ones in Circus) are VERY well-dressed. The mangaka creases the clothes so much that your mother will want them to put their clothes back in the dryer. The only issue with the clothing choice is that there are at least three guys in tuxedos and top hats, and I get them very easily confused with one another.
Current Verdict: 6/10
Is there something I’m not getting? Karneval has been running for thirteen years and counting, yet it’s kind of meh. It’s not the worst manga ever, but that doesn’t make it a masterpiece. If you just want to kick back and relax with a whacky battle shounen manga, then Karneval is there for you.